After winning a Grant (the story: 5 years of Keep an Eye Grant)

Every year the heads and teachers of Design Academy Eindhoven nominate 20 graduates from the bachelor and master programs for the generous 11, 000 Euro Keep an Eye Grant.

A selected jury selects four winners based on who they consider to be the most promising designers. Winners are encouraged to use their prize money to either develop their graduation projects further, or to gain more knowledge.
We, at Design Academy Eindhoven, spoke to some previous winners of the Keep an Eye Grant to hear how the award impacted on their professional development.

Nils Chudy & Gabriel Ann Maher

Nils Chudy, one of the 2014 winners, explodes with enthusiasm when asked about how the Keep an Eye Grant helped him to kick-start his career. 
For his graduation project Nils invented the liquid heater MIITO – an alternative to a traditional kettle. MIITO heats liquids directly in the cup thus eliminating the need to heat excess water in a large kettle when making a single cup of tea, for example. It is a simple and effective design – the hallmark of great work – and it makes us all wonder why no one thought of it before.

  • “It was thanks to the Keep an Eye Grant that I was able to take the project further,” Nils says. “Receiving the grant was amazing because it made the next steps possible. It takes a lot more than people realize to really develop a product up to a professional standard.”

The first thing Nils did was to team up with fellow Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Jasmina Grase. Together they founded a design studio in Copenhagen and applied for a patent and a trademark registration for MIITO. Then they moved to Berlin to start their company with the vision to bring MIITO to life. From Berlin they launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised € 820,000 in pre-orders for the product.

  • “We now have a great team and together we’re finishing the R&D to bring MIITO to life,” Nils says. “We expect to deliver MIITO Precise to our backers towards the end of next year.”

It took Nils and Jasmina less than one year to move from being students to business owners. “The graduation project was just a concept,” says Nils. “It is the Keep an Eye Grant that made it possible for us to start the company and bring the concept to life. It’s an extremely exciting and demanding process and we get to continue to learn new things on a daily basis.”

The success of MIITO matches exactly with the goals of the Keep an Eye Foundation: to keep an eye on promising young designers and artists in order to ensure that they are provided with the opportunity to hatch their golden eggs. In other words to help them realize their design visions.

Another 2014 recipient was Gabriel Ann Maher who inspired a hefty debate with a project on gender identity in the media.

Gabriel graduated from the Masters Social Design department with DE_SIGN, which won they* the 11,000 Euro Keep an Eye Grant and made it possible for them to take the debate across the world.
Gabriel was the keynote presenter in the Design Debates on Design & Gender Identity at Whitechapel Gallery in London with design critic Alice Rawsthorn, and design theorist Mathilda Tham. They also presented the DE_SIGN project in New York, Milan and Prague. 

  • “The Keep an Eye Grant really helped to make it all possible,” Gabriel says. “With Alice Rawsthorn and theorist Mathilda Tham we discussed the need to extend current design discourse beyond traditional feminist positions and to progress queer politics by developing an informed public language for gender identity in design. Within this forum a conversation was sparked with curator and critic Hans Ulrich Orbrist who will continue this critical discussion in his weekly columns for Das Magazin with the pioneer of queer theory, Paul Preciado.”

In the US Gabriel’s work became part of a group exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in New York: Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft + Design, Midcentury + Today. 
“The work was suggested for this exhibition because it extends the gendered theme beyond binary definitions,” says Gabriel. But they did more than just contribute a project. “I was able to advise the guest curator Jennifer Scanlan on gender theory and how it significantly relates to design,” Gabriel says. “This has since broadened the scope of the exhibition.” 

Without the Keep an Eye Grant Gabriel would never have had the financial space to participate in these key academic forums for design. They could present, enter a critical dialogue, and create strong networks for collaboration and exchange with key institutions, practitioners and critics. 

Gabriel is now taking the project one step further. “With the media platform Dazed Group I’m developing the concept ‘Algorithms for Cultural Analysis’ and ‘Technologies for Seductive Criticism’,” they say. 
“The initial step is to produce a computer algorithm to collect and analyze media, both visual and text based, allowing for the gathering of more statistics as a basis of critique. “And again it really was the Keep an Eye Grant that made it possible for my project to evolve,” Gabriel continues. “It afforded me valuable time to turn an emerging methodology into a critical practice, which exists now on an international level. I have been able to pursue the opportunities presented post-graduation to their fullest.” 

Rianne Koens & Dave Hakkens

Another grant winner is Rianne Koens. She graduated in 2011 with an ingenious chest that can be unstacked to become a set of stools. 

Like Nils Chudy, Rianne used her Keep an Eye Grant to set up her own studio and invest in developing her graduation project for the market under the Otura label. 

  • “The money gave me financial independence and was instrumental in helping me to get started,” says Rianne. “It is a lot harder than new graduates might expect and I still feel like I needed advice and consultation on how to make my business a reality.”
    Rianne is now based in Istanbul. Her designs tend to explore the intersection between east and west. “I create western products inspired by the culture surrounding me here in Turkey,” she says.

And finally there is 2013 sensation Dave Hakkens who won a Keep an Eye Grant for Precious Plastic and Phone Bloks. With Phone Bloks he dared to challenge the power of phone companies. Dave designed a phone consisting of separate components that can be clicked together so when one part breaks only that part needs to be replaced.

Dave’s goal was never to have his phone manufactured, but to challenge and ultimately change the way phone companies think. Via his 380,000,000 reach on social media, he ended up doing just that – and is now in collaboration with the main players on the topic of modularity. 

  • “The Keep an Eye Grant was extremely meaningful to me,” Dave says. “After I graduated I was broke. I wanted to keep working on projects that I believed in and I didn’t want to have to get a traditional job just to pay the rent.” Dave didn’t directly use the Keep an Eye Grant to develop his graduation project. Rather, he used it to pay for the basics like food and board. “But that sense of freedom made it possible for my current projects to become real,” he says. “It was about being able to focus on the best projects.”

Currently Dave is developing his other graduation project, Precious Plastic. He is making a set of machines that can recycle plastic waste. The blueprints for these machines are open-source and shared online, for free. “The big idea is that everyone in the world can start their own plastic recycling community,” he says. 

*Gabriel Maher prefers not be identified in written form using the feminine she. "I know it can be confusing, but it also deepens the discussion of the topic," Maher says. "Even in writing an article, gender is implied in our language structures. I wonder if it's possible to shift this. The idea of fluid or obscure identity can be communicated by breaking the structure of language too - it is what I prefer.”